New Orleans

Headed to New Orleans this morning to take in the engagement party of two fine people. It’ll be my first time in the city; very curious to see how the trip goes. Plans include the eating of beignet and my usual “I am in a new city; I must visit a bookstore” agenda. So hey.

Chances are good that some dispatches, and the occasional photo, will show up on Twitter.

Some reviews. Three, in fact.

Somewhat randomly: here are three reviews that appeared recently on Dusted. All are for albums that I would recommend.

Handsome Furs, Sound Kapital:

Sound Kapital never quite settles into a comfortable pattern of pop. The first 15 seconds of opener “When I Get Back” feature slightly distorted vocals over a skeletal beat. Though it eventually settles into a more established dancefloor configuration, those first moments are intentionally jarring, the lines “When I get back home / I won’t be the same no more” serving as the album’s thesis statement.

The War on Drugs, Slave Ambient:

These are songs designed to be played in an archetypal car with its windows down, engine floored as it heads down the interstate. On the other hand, there’s a blissful quality — less psychedelic and more coming from the ambient/drone side of things. It’s not dissimilar to the devastatingly subtle boundary-ebbings practiced by the likes of Marissa Nadler and Sharon Van Etten.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen, A Winged Victory for the Sullen:

Unlike The Dead Texan, which flirted very loosely (and effectively) with pop structures, the seven pieces here are more impressionistic; while there are structures in place, the overall effect is one of contrasts, of quieter sections giving way to the presence of a host of instruments.

Studying Case Studies

So: I reviewed the debut from Case Studies for Dusted. And I interviewed Jesse Lortz, the man behind the project, for Vol.1. Lortz was also half of The Dutchess and The Duke, who made two of my favorite albums of the past couple of years. I was excited to hear this new project; and, when it comes down to it, I’d recommend the Case Studies album highly.

What I do still find giving me pause, though, are Lortz’s feelings about his current work relative to his past work. On the one hand, I can’t think of many artists in any discipline who’d make the case that their latest work isn’t their best. But I also find myself conflicted about my love of his previous work and whether it can coexist with my admiration of his present work. For now, I’m still listening; still working it all out.

ALL HANDS ON (is an anthology I am in)

I arrived home to find this in my mailbox. (More specifically: it was on the floor below it. My mailbox is fairly small.) The book in question is All Hands On: THE2NDHAND After 10, and it’s a collection of work from the long-running Chicago-and-Nashville-based literary broadsheet (and website).

I’ve had some stories appear in both their print and online spaces, and they also appear here; there’s also work from smart folks like Joe Meno, Patrick Somerville, Al Burian, Anne Elizabeth Moore, Jonathan Messinger, Susannah Felts, Jamie Iredell, Kate Duva, and more.

(As always, giant thanks are due to editors Todd Dills and C.T. Ballentine, who are fine people to boot.)

If you’re so inclined, you can purchase the book here.

Scones

Most mornings, I stop in to Long Island City’s Sweetleaf before work for a cup of coffee and a scone. Sweetleaf does a fine job of baking scones that achieve a good sweet/savory balance; this weekend, I decided to give something similar a shot.

Scones

To make these, I followed the basic scone recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. I added a tablespoon of chipotle pepper, half a cup of sliced almonds, about a cup of queso fresco, and a teaspoon and change of Mexican vanilla. The result was lighter than expected and just spicy enough, with the cheese fairly blended in but still tempering the chipotle.

 

Writing About Places Where I Write

Last week, I contributed an essay to the excellent “Write Place, Write Time” series of, well, short essays about where writers do their thing.

I’m going to need to sketch out a shared history for the three primary main characters — including former bandmates, families, classmates — as well as a small town near the Pennsylvania border in northwestern New Jersey. I keep a Moleskin notebook around, but more recently I picked up a half-dozen Field Notes notebooks so that I could keep things project-specific.

You can read the whole thing right here. The whole site is well worth your time as well…

New fiction: “Winter Montage, Hoboken Station”

The fine people at Storychord have published my short story “Winter Montage, Hoboken Station.” You can read it here.

Here’s a short excerpt:

Transit always reminds me of transit. The light rail that runs along the Hudson calls back every trip I’ve ever taken to the Twin Cities — if the cars used on each line aren’t the same make, they have to be siblings or kissing cousins or flat-out doppelgängers. Minneapolis makes me think of winter, makes me think of long walks through the same snowbanks that petrify my clients out here. I spent four years there, punctuated by repetition: every six to eight weeks, I would take the light rail from riverside neighborhoods to the airport, would step out into the airport’s cavernous station, and would take flight. I almost always returned at night, and sitting at that station, half a dozen standing in random concentrations along the platform, might as well have been heraldry for that time in my life.

More on how this story came to be will appear in this space before long.

On “The Avian Gospels”

A man named Adam Novy wrote a novel, published in two volumes, called The Avian Gospels. I reviewed it for Word Riot, and you can read that review here.

Here’s a bit of it:

On the one hand, The Avian Gospels meets many of the criteria of dystopian science fiction: an ambiguous and shattered city, ruled by a dictator; the involvement of the paranormal – here, the ability of a father and son to psychically control the flocks of birds that have gathered around said city. (At times, The Avian Gospels would make an interesting double bill with Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking books.) At the same time, Novy sprinkles references throughout the novel that suggest a more self-aware level beyond the revolutions, denunciations, and abuses on display. There are specific references to the unlikely trifecta of James Ellroy, William Faulkner, and Oulipo; more generally, some of Novy’s use of specific words seems intentionally disjointed, recalling the rewritten syntax of Ben Marcus’s The Age of Wire and String.

And here’s what the two books look like:

AGbothbooks

And here’s a link to a conversation that Jason Diamond had with Mr. Novy for Vol.1.

New fiction: “An Apolitical Song”

A while ago, I took part in a day-long at-home writing session to benefit Dzanc Books. The story that began its life then — a riff on Brooklyn winters, isolation, and the notion of “fake jazz” — ended up becoming something called “An Apolitical Song.” And now the fine people at Metazen have chosen to publish it. Here’s an excerpt:

My current state: false starts and lyrics sitting half-written in notebooks. Seated at a table looking at fresh-made coffee. Watching steam ascend into late-morning light and thinking it looks like nothing more than smoke rising from a newly kindled fire. All I want to do is collapse around the phrase fake jazz, half-obsessed after a late-night remembrance of a long-ago late-night ramble about John Lurie. Thinking: I’m going to call this my fake fake jazz band, thinking that might blow minds, thinking that’ll leave holes in the world and realign things, wanting to see how people react, wanting to hear them run the combinations through their heads, wanting to see what their eyes do when they think. My fake fake jazz band.

You can read the rest here.

Kinsellaology

Word has come that Tim Kinsella — of many fine bands, including Joan of Arc, Owls, Cap’n Jazz, and Make Believe (pictured below) — has a novel forthcoming on the fine indie press featherproof.

SXSW2008 | Make Believe @ BD Riley's

I ended up writing a short blurb about this for Vol.1. What I wasn’t able to work in there was a link to this short story of mine that appeared on THE2NDHAND a couple of years ago. Called “Party Able Model,” it was written for a night of stories inspired by songs that was held in Chicago a few years ago. Given that Kinsella’s music has inspired fiction, it seems only fitting that he himself should also be working in that realm.

At the Manhattan Cocktail Classic

2011-05-15_14-32-47_657So: I spent my Sunday afternoon at the Astor Center, taking a class as part of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. This was my first time attending, and I didn’t entirely know what to expect: would it simply be an overview of cocktail-related lore, or something more hands-on?

The event I attended was — as the photograph above suggests — a look at assorted bars and clubs across nearly seventy years of film. Nora Maynard covered a series of films, ranging from Laura to Almost Famous, with four cocktails to be consumed over the course of the afternoon. (Two came pre-made; two were assembled in the space.) It was a very enjoyable way to spend ninety minutes, and it reminded me that I really, really need to watch Hannah and Her Sisters.

After the course, we headed into the main space, in which assorted spirits companies had bars set up at which cocktails could be made. It was there that I tried the drink pictured below, made with vodka, grapefruit and lemon juice, and topped with freshly-ground salt and pepper. Which was not something I’d have previously thought to put into a drink, but which worked remarkably well.

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